No more tears: How to wash your toddler’s hair without the meltdown

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.

When you’re preparing yourself for impending parenthood, you know a couple of things for sure – you’re going to be tired, you’re going to feed a lot, you’re going to change a lot of nappies, you’re going to feel overwhelmed at times …

It’s doubtful, though, that when you were pondering the unknowable challenges of parenting ahead, you put ‘hair washing’ on the list. But there is definitely a phase of life when gearing up to washing your offspring’s hair feels like you are preparing for a take-no-prisoners battle.

Your blood pressure starts to go up, you start giving yourself motivational pep-talks, you set yourself a deadline to get the job done. Who could have known that such a small routine task – a task your baby once loved – could have become, in the toddler years, the thing that makes everyone cry? 

What happened to happy bath times?

Firstly, it’s worth knowing that all this hair washing hate is definitely a phase. You – and your child – will come out the other side and it will be sunny days again at bath time eventually. 

While most children are happy to splash around in the bath until the water is freezing – it’s often the shampoo/water on the head thing that they object to, so it is this bit that needs some attention.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. Fear of stuff getting in their eyes

Whether it’s water or shampoo, you just need to get something a bit stingy in your eyes a couple of times before you start to overthink whether it might happen again. Washing hair when your baby was little was easy – you just lay them back against your arm and everything that went on their head naturally drained away from their face and into the bath. Not so easy to accomplish once your little one is sitting up in the bath.

2. Fear of being tipped backwards

Many little people, not unreasonably, don’t love to be forcibly tipped backwards when they’re already sitting on a slippery surface. They just don’t feel secure or safe. Of course, we as adults know that we have a good strong hold of them – but it’s a hard thing to communicate calmly when everyone is screaming at top volume.

3. Tactile sensation

A lot of young children develop a real aversion to getting their head scrubbed – some are sensitive to touch sensations in general and show a preference for specific types of touches. Some love a firm scrub, while others can only tolerate gentle touches. Hair washing gets a whole lot less stressful once you have worked out what your child likes.

Toddler in towel after bath

The big solutions

Getting your child comfortable having their face submerged in water is the big game-changer when it comes to hair washing drama. Usually, this is a job that is not done so well in the bath because everyone is already tense and mostly spending all their energy trying NOT to get water on the face!

Other ways you can start this acclimatisation process are:

1. Swimming lessons

Getting your child into swimming lessons sooner rather than later is life-changing. Not only does your child learn an important life skill, but you hand them over to a teacher who has all the patience and experience to help get that little face in the water and happily blowing bubbles while they’re there.

2. Swap the bath for the shower

When you’re standing in a shower, there is no tipping backwards at all to wash your hair – so this is a no-brainer if this is the issue at your place. Strangely too, kids seems to tolerate water on the face a lot better when they’re standing in the shower. Even better if you are in there with them. Be sure to keep an eye on them at all times – just like you do when they’re in the bath – to avoid any possible accidents.

3. Hand over the shampoo bottle

If your child is having issues with the tactile experience of hair washing, the best and fastest way to combat this is to hand over the job to them. Place the shampoo in their hands and let them have a go. They will get the pressure and the rubbing motion right for them. And yes, they will not do the best job ever, but you can give them a sneaky hand at the end when you help them wash it all out.

Hair washing tips to try

Smaller tricks you can try in the bath that can help at hair washing time include:

1. Put goggles on

Putting a pair of swimming goggles on at rinse-out time will help make your child feel more confident about keeping their eyes dry. Yes, it makes the rinsing of hair a little more challenging but the bonus here is that you are less likely to have a squally squirming child on your hands while you do the job.

2. Have a dry towel handy

Before you start the dreaded hair washing, show your little one that you have a nice dry towel at the ready to sweep away any trickles of water that are bold enough to make their way onto their face. 

3. Look up at the sky

Teach your child to ‘look up at the sky’ when you need to rinse out the shampoo. That way, you won’t have to tip them backwards yourself. Job done!

4. Place a washcloth over their eyes

A warm wrung-out washcloth folded neatly over the eyes can have a lovely soothing effect – and the added bonus is that if any water does come near the eyes, it will be absorbed by the cloth without anyone needing to know.

5. Make a game of it

Being asked to make a stressful situation ‘fun’ feels waaaay too hard, right? But I do have to say that everything felt calmer when we started playing ‘hairdressers’ at hair-washing time when my daughter was a toddler. I pretended to be the hairdresser and spent quite a bit of time making crazy hairstyles out of her wet bubbly hair, which she loved. I offered her a cup of tea (cup of cold water) which she sipped while we did hairdresser talk. And before we both knew it, her hair was washed and squeaky clean – with NO TEARS. 


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